Checking for Cervical Cancer

Why is it important for women to check for cervical cancer?

Staying healthy helps you deal with the challenges of life in a new country. One way to stay healthy is to get checked, or screened, for cervical cancer every three years. Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is at the opening of the uterus (womb). In Canada, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women under age 50. Each year in Ontario, about 630 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 150 die from this disease.

Most cervical cancer is caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is very common in anyone who is sexually active, and three out of four adults will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. People often do not know that they have an HPV infection because there are usually no signs or symptoms. Most HPV infections go away on their own but not always. If some types of HPV stay in the body, they can cause changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer. 

What is a Pap test?

The screening test for cervical cancer is the Pap test, which checks for abnormal changes in the cervix. It is free for residents covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and can be done by a doctor or nurse practitioner. An instrument, called a speculum, is gently put into the vagina to open it so the doctor or nurse performing the test can see the cervix. A small brush wipes some cells from the cervix and the cells are sent to a lab to be tested. You can ask to have a female healthcare provider do the test, and you can bring a family member or friend with you.

Who should be screened for cervical cancer?

You should have a Pap test every three years if you are age 21 or older, and you are or have ever been sexually active. You should be screened even if you have had only one sexual partner. After age 70, you can stop Pap tests if you have had at least three normal tests since the age of 60.

How can I make an appointment for a Pap test?

Speak to your family doctor or nurse practitioner about having a Pap test. If you do not have OHIP coverage, speak to your local community health centre about free Pap test clinics.

Why do some women get a letter about cervical cancer screening?

Regular screening is so important that Cancer Care Ontario an agency of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, sends letters to eligible women inviting them to be screened. Women also get letters that tell them their screening results and remind them when it is time to return for screening. It is your choice to be screened or not.

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Last updated: September 12, 2023 4001657